|Midas touching. Over the weekend I watched L’Amour Fou, the new documentary about the sale of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Collection at Christie’s two years ago. Actually it’s the story of Yves Saint Laurent’s rise and fall. Actually it’s the story of the relationship of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Actually it’s the story of Pierre Berge’s life. Actually Yves Saint Laurent is the story of Pierre Berge’s life. Period.
Modern documentaries are more and more like movies. And frequently much more engaging and interesting (and satisfying). They tell stories and the good ones touch you. The subjects and narrators are the actors.
Pierre Bergé is the only living subject of this tale, so the camera is mainly his. He’s quite comfortable in his close-ups, and he carries his action shots like a real pro. I don’t mean this sarcastically considering he’s not an actor. Ahh, but maybe that’s the rub: he is an actor. The world is a stage after all, and no doubt the French have a phrase to describe Berge’s ascent and position into the orbits of the privileged and powerful.
It opens with Yves delivering a black and white video speech about his life, reading the explanation of his decision to leave the fashion business, as well as acknowledging his battle – which he conquered – with alcohol and drugs. In the video, which is black and white, he is aging and awkwardly plumpish; and permanently pained, or angry. He looks harassed. You feel his intense discomfort. You can see that he must want to just finish this “speech” and get out of there.
The camera moves to color and Bergé recalling their life, from the beginning, recalling Yves’ early history and why he was fired from Dior after succeeding the master and producing a winning line. Bergé met him around the time it happened.
It is interesting to see the young men at their beginning and to compare it to what age and lifestyle can do. The young Bergé is handsome with a shrewd, bantam-like energy. You can see he was not someone to mess with. Yves is tall and skinny and equine. And painfully shy. They had met a small dinner given by a friend in a restaurant in Montmartre and there was a mutual attraction. Soon after they were living together.
When the axe fell at Dior, Bergé suggested Yves go out on his own, with Bergé managing the business. The story of Yves’ meteoric rise and their spectacular business success is demonstrated.
There is an unmistakable similarity to the paths taken by Valentino and Giancarlo which also explains the designer’s great financial success and fame. The personalities of the two couples are very different, however. V and G may have emotional turbulence but apparently know how to enjoy themselves and surround themselves with friends. Yves had his great friend Betty Catroux and his muse Lou Lou, and the protector in Pierre, but he was still alone in his despair.
He was always a delicate boy. I say that empathically. He was the most he could be and when it worked, it was genius as well as hugely successful. However, when he became a “success” his natural disposition couldn’t place it within his shell. He found his way out with drugs and alcohol. It is always a fool’s journey but a common, even ordinary one, as many of us know.
All of this story is told in the film while we tour their vast collection -- the art, the objets, the sculptures, their houses, their gardens, all amidst Bergé’s on-screen narrative. As the story moves along the auction house specialists and movers begin to appear in the background, going through everything in preparing for the sale. Bergé is disposing of their lifetime together collecting. Yves is gone. Everything must go.
You realize when watching that Bergé is now an old man a putting things in order. His manner is deliberate. He speaks slowly and thoughtfully. All is said without a trace of private emotion. I don’t understand French well, but the brief subtitles do the job well. You learn that in their relationship Bergé, besides being companion, was caretaker as well as financial adviser, and therefore very powerful. Without him Yves would never have been YSL. Never. That’s Berge’s genius.
He seems unfettered and unmoved by this enormous de-acquisition of a history he shared with another. Instead, the seasoned executive carries out his decisions with certainty and authority, like an old and shrewd banker tying up loose ends.
The sale itself which took place in two parts at the Grand Palais in 2009 was one of the great social events of the year and maybe the decade. It was also the greatest private sale of its kind ever. We watch Bergé watching the bidding go into the stratosphere. Like the buyers and spectators, he sometimes applauds the final gavel on an item. Sometimes there is a slight smile of satisfaction. Remorse or regrets are not visible.